Kayaking Around Ice to Discover Emotional Freedom

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Happy couple at the face of Columbia Glacier, Prince William Sound

It’s been a while since I’ve written; my entire 8th season guiding in Alaska has passed. I’ll use the excuse that I was too busy pondering my emotional freedom while paddling around icebergs. I’m currently in Panama, eagerly awaiting my first sea kayaking trip to Guna Yala next week. That will kick off a busy paddling season here! (Promotional plug: There are still trips with space available. Contact me.) 

When the owner of Best Marine & Outdoors, a company that sells kayak accessories and safety equipment (available in the USA, Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, & Spain), invited me to contribute to their wonderful blog about the benefits of kayaking, I happily got to writing. Check out their blog and website here. I wanted to write something both relevant to our current rapidly changing environment, as well as something that encourages us to think about transformation in nature in a different way; that can invite acceptance and freedom from emotional turmoil, which we all experience in life.

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Finding emotional freedom at the face of Columbia Glacier (& rocking the double glasses!), Prince William Sound

Kayaking can make us better human beings. In addition to the more obvious physical benefits of any type of exercise, kayaking has the ability to positively impact our emotional and mental states. How does this look for me? Read on to learn how paddling specifically in Alaska around icebergs has affected my mental/emotional health and ability to go through life with more grace, non-attachment, and joy, especially through difficult times, so that you might give it a try too and enjoy these same benefits.

Icebergs are one of the most beautiful things in this world, and one of my favorite parts of paddling in Alaska. There is ice everywhere, even in the warmer months of summer. I’ve spent countless hours marveling that ice can take such diverse form, size, color, and density. . . each piece unique in its stage of life and movement. I love to observe the different sounds that emerge from ice: popping, hissing, sizzling, and groaning. I’ve sat in a kayak and watched icebergs the size of an apartment building split in half and roll around seeking equilibrium, water and ice cascading and spraying into the air. Oh, how marvelous!

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Iceberg, Columbia Bay, Prince William Sound

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Ice transforms to water, Columbia Glacier, Prince William Sound

I look to ice as a great teacher, offering a sense of freedom, as well as pacifying turbulent times in life. Contemplating the transient nature of ice teaches me to approach life in the same way, especially uncomfortable situations. Ice is in a constant state of transformation (not for one second is it ever the same as before); melting and freezing, breaking apart and floating away, becoming water. No piece of ice will ever exist again in that same way. This sentiment is extremely liberating, as it can be applied to all feelings and thoughts, which we know can be quite terrorizing and overwhelming. Whether it’s sadness, anger or even ecstatic happiness that I’m experiencing I look to the ice and a sense of tranquility immediately passes over me. It will pass. Whatever it is. . . It will pass. There is nothing to hold on to, just as the ice does not struggle to hold on to the water that comprises it nor the ocean in which it’s floating. That’s comforting, isn’t it?

I’d like to share an excerpt from my journal on October 15, 2016, the day that I left Alaska after my fifth season kayak guiding for Anadyr Adventures in Prince William Sound.

. . . All of these natural wonders take away the clutter in my mind. . . teach me the value of letting go of what does not matter in life, and to cherish what does, which is the present moment, love, compassion, and gratitude. Somehow these wonders are teachers. Somehow a floating chunk of ice teaches me that nothing ever stays the same. . . everything is constantly in a state of transformation; thoughts, feelings, and emotions included. I learn to let go of all of them, watch them pass by as I watch floating ice pass by, never to be experienced quite the same way again. Just like the ice I will watch millions of thoughts go by, and I must let go of each and every one of them. It is a struggle, for sure. Yet, does the ice struggle? I think not! 

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Amongst the ice, Columbia Bay, Prince William Sound

There you have it. Ice. Is. Amazing. If anyone has any thoughts they’d like to share, I’d love to read them. How does kayaking benefit you? How has paddling around ice (or nature, in general) impacted your life? Thank you for reading and stay tuned for more. I won’t let another full season go by without writing more blogs. Take great care, everyone! Peruse my website, blog, and contact me for information on day and multi-day sea kayaking trips based out of Valdez, Alaska, as well as Caribbean & Pacific coasts of Panama.

 

SEE YOU SOON VALDEZ, ALASKA: 8 Things a Sea Kayak Guide Gets Excited For (For her 8th Season)

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One of my favorite places on Earth, the face of Columbia Glacier, Prince William Sound

Although currently finishing up the guiding season in Panama, my thoughts are starting to wander north; to a wild land of calving glaciers, glistening icebergs, bobbing Sea Otters, soaring Bald Eagles, enticing ice caves, midnight “sunsets”, and extravagant dance parties with the other Anadyr Adventures sea kayaking guides. They say that a guide’s 8th season is her best!

When writing about Alaska it’s all too easy to enumerate the state’s exceptional qualities, spitting out superlatives left and right. I’ll leave that for David Attenborough (sounds better in his charming accent anyway). Having returned for so many seasons as a sea kayak guide for Anadyr Adventures, it’s the subtle things that I most look forward to; special moments that I wake up excited for. Without further ado and in no particular order: What I am MOST excited about:

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Yipeeeeeeee, Columbia Bay

1) The precise moment at the start of an ocean kayaking tour in Prince William Sound when our water taxi gets “on step” (the boat speeds up enough to climb on top of the water. . and we’re off!). This is almost a daily occurrence for me and my heart still races with anticipatory excitement for what the day will bring. It is the moment that we leave the Valdez small boat harbor behind and we are all about to experience the magic of eastern Prince William Sound.

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Getting “on step” in Prince William Sound

2) We’ve spotted a whale. I repeat a whale has been spotted! Could be a glimmering dorsal fin in the distance. . maybe the dissipating mist from its breath. Maybe a slight disturbance on the surface of the water. Maybe everyone saw it, or just one of us. It’s as if our breathing simultaneously pauses, and heart rates accelerate as we wait in silence for what comes next. . .

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My heart skipped a beat!

3) Client’s reactions (sometimes silent awe, more often gasps of varying intensities) to a slightly elevated vista of the iceberg-dotted Columbia Bay, where we have just been paddling at sea level. After gazing up at majestic icebergs from our kayak seats we are now treated to a vast expanse of ice and water below us. It’s lunchtime and we have crested a hill called The Mojave. During this 5-minute climb I tell the clients No matter what, do not look to your right! (where the view is) Wait until we’re at the top. Trust me, it’s worth it. It always is.

4) The Secret Passage. If I divulge too much info. . well, then it wouldn’t be the Secret Passage, now would it? I’ll allow this much; getting to paddle through this magical passageway in Heather Bay (on a Columbia Glacier day tour or overnight trip)  involves impeccable timing by the guide.

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This is what impeccable timing allows, The Secret Passage

5) Jump shots! After telling people that I am a professional jump-shot photographer, I am met with enthusiastic consent or nervous acquiescence. Either way no one has ever regretted a jump shot. It goes without saying that watching people zoom in on faces in a jump-shot photo elicits just as much delight as the photo itself.

6) When clients walk away and give me the silent treatment. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. You just go ahead and take a moment to take this all in.

7) Paddles in the air. Put your hands where I can see them, ma’am. Gets me every time. Just lights my heart right up:) Sometimes it’s solicited, but it’s the best when it happens naturally.

8) Last, but definitely not least: Celebrating the spectacularly unique and wonderful Anadyr guides (we cleverly call ourselves the Anadamily). The friends and co-workers who I have shared multiple seasons with in Valdez are like family. This family grows every season. Sure, we work hard, but we play even harder. And we dress up and dance to Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente” (best music video ever). . and we cook fried chicken and kimchi waffles (yea, they’re delicious). . and we party on a deck with the most amazing view in town. . and we gallivant in search of adventure in our breathtaking Valdez. They are the most fun and weirdest (in the best way) group of individuals who I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with, as well as the most open-hearted and open-minded. (Seasonal guides are all a bit weird, aren’t they?) The love, passion, and playfulness that the guides (and staff. . I’m not leaving out the water taxi captains and office staff!) put into each and every kayaking trip to make it memorable for guests are sincerely inspiring. This is what I look forward to.

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Best view in town, Anadyr Adventures

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Cuddle Puddle to keep warm near Denali

Because I’m sure you’re curiosity has been piqued. . .

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Tommy’s famous chicken and kimchi waffles

Well there you have it. Still excited after all these years, and looking forward to what lucky season #8 has in store for me, the Anadamily, and all of my future kayaking guests. If you or someone you know wants to experience the beauty and wonder of Prince William Sound with me or one of the aforementioned wonderful kayaking guides in Valdez, Alaska contact me. I’d love to hear from you. Let me know which one you’d be most excited about!

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Steller Sea Lions as our kayaking chaperones, Glacier Island

Along with day trips to the area’s many glaciers and wildlife viewing hot-spots, there are wilderness lodge, mothership (sailboat), and overnight camping kayaking tours available. Check out the options here, or visit Anadyr Adventures. We also offer ACA accredited (American Canoe Association) Levels 1 and 2 Coastal Kayaking courses, which are a safe and fun way to develop kayaking skills. . in one of the most spectacular places on Earth.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Subscribe and stay tuned for an upcoming blog about my recent 24,000,000 centimeter kayaking expedition in Guna Yala, Panama (aka San Blas Islands) to the Colombian border! Join me and Her Odyssey for a wild Caribbean adventure. You don’t want to miss it!

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I’D DIP MY PADDLE IN THAT: Lake Superior Kayaking + 12 Reasons to Visit the Keweenaw Peninsula

*If you’re reading this in email format, please visit the website version.*

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What a good-lookin’ fleet!

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Beauty in nature is found by those who seek it, Lake Superior

When I received an enthusiastic invitation from Keweenaw Adventure Company (pronounced kinda like Kee-wah-naw) to partake in a sea kayaking tour in exchange for writing a blog, I answered an even more enthusiastic “Yes!” (truthfully, it was more like “Yaaaaaasss!”) Wow, I was finally going to dip my paddle in the waters of the famous Lake Superior, the largest of North America’s Great Lakes. This was a pretty big deal for me. And if I had to use one word to describe my experience? Friggin’awesome (that’s one word, right? It is now).

I strive to surround myself with good people in beautiful places doing fun things. Let me tell ya. . . Keweenaw folks are good people in a beautiful place doing fun things:) The take-away message here is Keweenaw Adventure Company is amazing. Copper Harbor is amazing. Lake Superior is amazing. Sea kayaking on Lake Superior in Copper Harbor with Keweenaw Adventure Company is amazing.


Keweenaw Adventure Company Highlights

Guided sea kayaking day trips, overnight camping and kayaking trips to Isle Royale National Park, kayaking lessons and rentals, mountain biking tours and rentals, vacation rentals, shuttles, retail shop, and more. Visit their website.KAC logo- 25th finalThey also offer Group Adventures (youth groups, scouts, camps, staff retreats, and yoga/wellness retreats). Any group of 8 or more receives a 15% Group Discount. The more the merrier! They also have a great adventure blog. Check out A Kayaking Yoga Routine, from Keweenaw staffer and Michiganer (artist, musician, and yogi), Lena Wilson, the first person who I met upon my arrival to the Keweenaw Peninsula. She graciously served as my personal tour guide during our drive, regaling me with fun Michigan facts, and making the necessary visit to the renowned Jampot, where I purchased some truly divine gifts for my parents. . . and myself. Industrious monks from this Byzantine Catholic Monastery make jams, jellies, preserves, and impossible-to-resist baked goods and fruitcakes using the finest local, regional, and organic ingredients. They offer a surprisingly large selection of baked goods soaked in liquor. I guess they know what sells:) A must-stop if you’re driving the Scenic Highway M26!

 

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Rule #1: Look good. My guide, Matt, perfecting his hair before our first paddle on Lake Superior together

Let’s take a closer look at what makes this place unique, shall we? Fun facts: Copper Harbor is the northernmost town in Michigan, located on the Keweenaw Peninsula, which juts into Lake Superior. The Keweenaw Peninsula is the largest and northernmost county in Michigan, and the least populated. It is believed that “Keweenaw” is a Native American word that means “portage or place where portage is made”. Copper Harbor, the name alluding to its’ former role of shipping copper mined from local deposits during the mid-19th century, is the farthest away you can get from an Interstate Highway in the lower 48. How cool! Lake Superior is generally considered the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area (31,700 square miles), which is 10% of the earth’s fresh surface water. Fed by over 200 rivers and containing 2,900 cubic miles of water, it is the third-largest freshwater lake by volume in the world, and the largest by volume in North America. With 2,726 miles of shoreline to explore (including over 400 islands), it is also the cleanest and the clearest of the Great Lakes (underwater visibility averages 27 feet, and can reach 100 feet!). One more fun fact, which blows my mind: Waves of over 40 ft. in height have been recorded on Lake Superior (all the more reason to hire an experienced guide)! Don’t worry, the good folks at Keweenaw Adventure Company wouldn’t dare take you out in those conditions.

Keep it local! Copper Harbor has no chain businesses. None. Zero. If you’re looking for a picturesque place with an off-the-beaten-path local vibe that offers fun adventures for the whole family, lovely accommodations, great restaurants, brewpubs, and artisan shops, you’ve arrived (scroll down for my top finds). This place is on point! With a year-round population of 80 that swells to a few hundred in the summer months, Copper Harbor offers a unique escape into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a place renowned for breathtaking wilderness and intriguing local culture. I need to go back to delve deeper into what makes a Yooper a Yooper (someone born and raised, or accepted as a transplant to the Upper Peninsula), because Yoopers sure are proud of who they are and where they come from!

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View of Copper Harbor from the Brockway Mountain Overlook. (C) Keweenaw Adventure Co.


Keweenaw Adventure Company Offers Multi-Day Sea Kayaking Trips to Isle Royale National Park

Copper Harbor is known as the gateway to Isle Royale National Park, which is the largest island in Lake Superior at an impressive 207 square miles, and one of only 2 of the nation’s island national parks. Apparently, Yellowstone National Park receives more visitors in a single day than Isle Royale does in an entire season! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to paddle here (frowny face), so I’m already scheming a trip for the future. From what I’ve heard Isle Royale offers some of the best wilderness kayaking in Michigan. I’ve pored over enough photos to confirm this claim. Who wouldn’t want to kayak past some of the oldest exposed rock in the world! No vehicles are allowed on the island, so hiking and boating are the only options to explore the more than 150 miles of shoreline, numerous barrier islands, and fjord-like bays. These are best explored in a sea kayak with a local guide. The island is teeming with flora and fauna; eagles, loons, many species of birds and waterfowl, as well as wolves, moose, and otters.

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This will be me someday paddling at Isle Royale, (C) Keweenaw Adventure Co.


Good Times in Copper Harbor

Now that I’ve regaled you with fun facts about the location, here’s a run-down of what I actually did during my 4 days of fun in Copper Harbor. Because if you’re going to trek all the way out to this small town, you might as well stay a while and go local; sample the best of nature and adventure with the various tours offered by Keweenaw Adventure Company, and hit up some of these other spots too!

  1. Acquainted myself with the wonderful staff of Keweenaw Adventure Company, met my guide, checked out the kayaks and gear, and settled into my cozy and private accommodations at the Chalet Adventure Lodge, next to the company shop. They offer seasonal and different styles of cozy accommodations (cabin, house, cottage, chalet) in Copper Harbor. Fully furnished and equipped, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here.
  2. Went sea kayaking on Lake Superior. I chose the Bare Bluffs day tour, enticed by sea stacks and sea caves. Although sunny, it was a bit blustery, so Matt and I turned back a tad early before the waves could build up too much. I loved the interesting shoreline and did get to see a few sea caves and the sea stack in the distance. Part of what made the trip so great was getting to know yet another quirky kayak guide:) Luckily, guides always have calm paddling spots up their sleeves, so we explored a serene slough, beautified by the reflection of vibrant fall foliage, as I described sea kayaking in Alaska to Matt. As an avid sea kayaker and guide I could immediately see the truth in everything that I’d heard of paddling on Lake Superior; it’s a gorgeous world-class paddling destination. It offers kayaking for all abilities, from flat and glassy, to big waves that only the most experienced “storm chaser” paddlers seek. . . and everything in between.

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    Sea Stack on the Bare Bluffs Day Tour, (C) Keweenaw Adventure Co.

  3.  Enjoyed an afternoon of hiking on the Copper Harbor Trail System. Due to guiding commitments in Alaska, my trip to Michigan took place in October, a lovely time of year to enjoy vibrant fall colors. (I got to enjoy 3 falls; Alaska, Michigan, and Philadelphia.) On my way to the trailhead I passed a lovely community garden surrounded by apple trees. I hiked for miles, undisturbed and at peace (I hardly saw anybody else, except for a few mountain bikers).
  4. Learned about mountain biking in Copper Harbor, the “Moab of the Midwest”. The Copper Harbor Trail System, which boasts over 40 miles of marked and mapped trails is designated for hiking and mountain biking. I had no idea that Copper Harbor is such a hotspot for singletrack mountain biking! Apparently it’s some of the most unique, scenic, and thrilling mountain biking in Upper Michigan. The area won the prestigious “Silver Level Ride Center” designation from the IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association), and has an ever-growing community of biking enthusiasts who dedicate thousands of cumulative hours each season to maintain and create trails, as well as promote eco-tourism to the area. Keweenaw Adventure Company is a major supporter of the Copper Harbor Trails Club, which is now recognized as a “model club” on both the regional and national level. In fact, the owner of the Keweenaw Adventure Company, Sam Raymond (avid mountain biker), helped to formally establish the Trails Club, and has personally dedicated 1000s of sweaty hours to building trails. Good people doing cool things. Next time I visit I’m going to do some mountain biking with one of their guides!
  5. Did yoga in the forest. I don’t normally photograph myself doing yoga. In fact, it would never occur to me to document such a thing. However, for the purpose of this blog, here you go:) Beautiful and peaceful places abound in this area for exercise, yoga, and healthy living in general. The air is fresh, crowds are easily avoidable, and nature-based activities pervade the community. Besides, visitors from more populous areas may have a slightly different notion as to what defines a crowd.
  6. Caught a gorgeous sunset from Brockway Mountain. Wow! This was a highlight, and a short drive from town. The scenic road is 10 miles long, with many pull-offs to take in the views. At the top you’ll be rewarded with a 360° view of Lake Superior, the surrounding woodlands, and inland lakes. At 735 feet above the lake, you can see Isle Royale about 50 miles away. Next visit I want to catch a sunrise here.
  7. Ate a Lake Superior Whitefish sandwich at the Mariner North restaurant. Visiting a new place always includes indulging my taste buds in the local fare, as well as learning about the food heritage of the area. Lake Superior is home to about 88 species of fish, including carp and varieties of trout, salmon, and perch. I’ve heard they’re all delicious! Fish from the lake are rich in omega-3 fatty acids because the lake is very cold and deep. Hundreds of years ago the Ojibwe and Chippewa Indians hunted Lake Superior trout, whitefish, and sturgeon from birch bark canoes using nets crafted from willow bark. European settlers began to arrive and commercial fishing was born as a result in 1820. Due to the usual culprits of pollution, over-fishing, and introduction of invasive species, trout and whitefish numbers severely declined and by the 1950’s the heyday of this commercial fishery was over. Currently, there are strict regulations to limit commercial fishing in Lake Superior.

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    Damn that was a tasty Whitefish sandwich at the Mariner North

  8. Introduced a new friend to packrafting at Hunter’s Point Park. For those who have sat in a packraft, it’s a pretty tight ride. But I only had one raft and we needed it just for a short crossing to a small island. It was in the name of exploration! Hunter’s Point Park is a beautiful area with a few trails that follow the shoreline of Lake Superior. Great for birding, as well as abundant flora (wildflowers, mushrooms, lichen, mosses, and cedars, hardwoods, and pines). The geological formations are especially unique here. The basalt in this area is the oldest rock on earth. Consider a visit here like a window to the past.
  9. Took a stroll on the Cathedral Grove Trail at Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary, which is home to the oldest stands of virgin White Pine trees in Michigan. Owned and cared for by the Michigan Nature Association, the sanctuary has two short and easy trails that feature pines that are more than 100 feet tall and 200 years old. There are also Maple, Birch, and Cedar trees. I was there in the fall and got to see a bounty of mushrooms in many shapes and colors. In the summer and spring you can see many rare fern species, as well as orchids and other delicate woodland plants.
  10. Grooved to the juke box at Zik’s Bar with the endearing couple who own and operate Keweenaw Adventure Company (Sam and Shelby). Is it sacrilegious to have spent even a few hours in Michigan without drinking beer? I think so. I’m guilty. I just don’t like beer. However, I did drink wine at this fine local establishment. This is the place to be if you want to check out the Copper Harbor nightlife, while being immersed in local history, as the walls are covered with photos and memorabilia depicting local lore. Copper Harbor has at least one microbrewery called Brickside Brewery, which I did not visit. Next time.

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    Zik’s Bar, (C) Zik’s Bar

  11. Coffee and fresh muffins from Jamsen’s Fish Market and Bakery. Local, delicious, and right on the waterfront:)

  12. Received an unexpected farewell gift of homemade jams from front yard blueberries and raspberries. I got a ride from a new friend to the airport, and when we stopped at her house to check the tire pressure, her landlord handed me two large jars of homemade jam! It was such a moving gesture. That sealed the deal. . .I’m going back for more:)
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    Copper Harbor Trail System


    Even though I’m a sea kayaker who went to Copper Harbor to go sea kayaking on Lake Superior, I came away with far more experiences. It was an unexpected whirlwind of meeting some of the most warm-hearted people I’d ever met. I made new friends and connected with people on a level that made me feel like I was visiting old friends. I discovered an adventure company that strives to keep things local, human, and sustainable.

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Agate Harbor Day Trip, (C) Keweenaw Adventure Co.


Parting Shot. . .

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Spreading a bit of Alaska Glacial Facial love to new friends, Matt and Gabbey. Cheers!


I sincerely hope that you enjoyed reading this special blog as much as I enjoyed reliving the fond memories as I wrote it. Check out my other paddling-related blogs about Panama, Alaska, and Croatia. Follow me on Instagram


Don’t forget to check out my website for upcoming summer sea kayaking trips in Alaska and Croatia. . . or if you’re one to plan well in advance, in Panama for next “winter” season.